On The Radio – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Coffee grounds to carbon-neutral fuels


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Coffee by Rudolf Vlček
Kasey Dresser | November 10, 2017

In the U.S, 1.5 million tons of coffee grounds are wasted each year. Bio-Bean is a company founded in 2013 by Arthur Kay, a London based entrepreneur. His idea takes excess coffee grounds and turns it into clean fuel to power buildings, vehicles, appliances and more. Coffee grounds are not only carbon neutral but they burn hotter and slower than wood.

To begin the process, bags of coffee ground waste are gathered from businesses, transportation stations, factories, stores, etc. The bags are shredded and separated. Next they’re dried to extract the water and put under a high pressure system to create “Coffee Logs.” Right now, “Coffee logs” are the most popular for hearth fires and stove top cooking. The company already recycles thousands of tons of coffee grounds annually and plans to keep going. According to National Geographic research every ton of coffee grounds Bio-beans keeps out of landfills, saves 200 trees. Not only is this an effective environmental protection plan but it saves coffee shops and instant coffee factories a lot of money that would have gone to disposing of the excess waste.

After 3 years, the Flint water crises is still happening


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 9, 2017

It has seemed like a while since the Flint water crises has hit news circuits. The small city in Michigan has reached an almost celebrity status as a beacon of misfortune, plagued by lead poisoning, poverty, and, famously, unemployment, as examined in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me.

There are layers to the water crises that are slowly being revealed as time goes on. The public knows this: The water issues started when Flint changed water sources to the Flint River in 2014. The switch was meant to be a temporary one, a sort of placeholder while Flint officials waited to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, a move estimated to save the region millions of dollars.

What followed in the next few years was improper water treatment, corroded pipes, and government inaction, all of it cumulating into what has eventually become a massive nationwide discussion on ethics, the environment, and how the two intertwine.

On October 16th, 2015, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit River, but the level of corrosion in the pipes was still a major concern for Flint citizens, resulting in several declarations of urgency: a state of emergency order from Obama in January of 2016, and an emergency order from the EPA.

Recently, criminal charges have been filed against three Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, all of them found guilty of withholding a report on the unsafe levels of lead found in Flint children.

A paper detailing the possible effects of the water crises on fertility is currently being worked on by Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas. Both have released their comparisons of birth and miscarriage rates from before and after the water crises, and have found that birth rates in Flint have decreased by 12% while fetal death rates have increased by a staggering 58%.

Flint is a black-majority city with a poverty rate of around 40%, and while this doesn’t at first seem to have an effect on the crises at hand, studies have found that communities of color are hugely more disproportionately affected by lead poisoning and environmental health risks than white communities.

Syria joins climate agreement, U.S. only country not participating


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The 23rd United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change is taking place November 6 through 17 in Bonn, Germany. (Bonn International)
Jenna Ladd | November 8, 2017

Syria recently announced at the international climate conference in Bonn, Germany that it will join the Paris Climate Accord.

Syria’s decision to join the international agreement makes the United States the only country in the world that is not honoring the 2015 climate change mitigation goals. President Trump announced that the U.S. would leave the agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, in June.

Nicaragua was the second-to-last country to ratify the agreement. The central American country initially voiced concerns that the Paris climate agreement did not go far enough to address climate change but decided to join in September.

The Sierra Club published a response to Syria’s joining, “As if it wasn’t already crystal clear, every single other country in the world is moving forward together to tackle the climate crisis, while Donald Trump has isolated the United States on the world stage in an embarrassing and dangerous position.”

Given that the U.S. is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, some experts wonder if the international climate goals can be reached without U.S. government support. More than 1,300 U.S Mayors, Governors, State Attorneys, businesses, investors and other prominent climate actors have communicated their continued commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement goals in the We Are Still In movement. The group, which makes up $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy, will send numerous delegates to the the Conference of the Parties 23 to “show [ing] the world that U.S. leadership on climate change extends well beyond federal policy.”

Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in the works


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A complete timeline of Iowa City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan development. (City of Iowa City)
Jenna Ladd | November 7, 2017

There was standing room only at the Iowa City Climate Action Community Meeting on Thursday night.

The community meeting was organized by the city of Iowa City’s Climate Action Steering Committee, which was formed in June 2017 following President Trumps’ announcement that the U.S. would withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, city council and the steering committee have committed Iowa City to the same goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord: community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of 26-28% by the year 2025 and 80% by 2050, where 2005 emissions levels serve as a baseline.

Representatives from the environmental consulting firm Elevate Energy presented attendees with possible climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in five categories: energy, waste, transportation, adaptation, and other, at five stations around the Iowa City Public Library’s meeting room A. Residents were invited to visit each station and vote for those strategies they thought would be useful to Iowa City and those strategies they felt they could help to implement.

Brenda Nations, Sustainability Coordinator for the city, opened the community meeting. She said, “We want to ensure the benefits for all members of our community, and we want to be sure to have equitable solutions to these problems.”

To that end, the steering committee plans to send a city-wide survey by mail in December to residents that are unable to attend any of the initiative’s community meetings.

In partnership with Elevate Energy, the steering committee will put together a concise report of community input and cost-benefit analysis that will inform the first draft of Iowa City’s climate action plan, due out in February. After a final community input meeting planned for April 26, the steering community will present their completed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to city council in May 2018.

On The Radio – California fires bring toxic ash


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Ash coats destroyed vehicles near Santa Rosa, California near the end of October. (California National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 6, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how ash left from California’s recent wildfires may threaten area residents. 

Transcript: The wildfires raging throughout Northern California have finally calmed down, but the fight isn’t over.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Northern Californians have suffered greatly in the wake of the October’s wildfires that left 42 dead and around 100,000 people displaced. Over 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Residents of a neighborhood in Santa Rosa are already seeing the effects of the ash, as it has started to cover every available surface. A state of emergency for multiple counties throughout California was issued last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Toxic ash could contain any number of hazardous materials, including trace amounts of arsenic and lead, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Many places effected by the ash have already issued health warnings to residents.

Efforts by the state of California have been made to clean up the toxic material and debris before the rainy season commences and washes toxins into local waterways.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

Form the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

UI scientists and Iowa teachers work together to create 8th grade curriculum


Kasey Dresser & Jenna Ladd | November 3, 2017

Eighth grade teachers from around the state came to the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center for a special kind of professional development last weekend.

The twenty-one participants worked with University of Iowa faculty and graduate students to design new eighth-grade science curriculum as a part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) development. A large step away from traditional rote memorization, NGSS allows students to engage in self-guided inquiry about phenomena occurring in their local environment.

Chelsea Salba is a high school science teacher at Dike-New Hartford. She said, “I love it all because the old way of doing things was ‘know and understand.’ Well, science is not memorizing facts and figures. It never has been. NGSS challenges teachers to make science actually happen in their classrooms. What I mean by that is [the students] are investigating, reading, creating a claim, doing something, getting feedback and then doing it again.”

Ted Neal, clinical associate professor in the College of Education and project lead, explained that eighth grade NGSS curriculum requires education about the natural systems and climate science. During morning and afternoon breakout sessions, teachers were asked to provide feedback about lesson plans related to how and why Iowans have changed the land and how climate change has affected local landscapes. These lesson plans, bundles five and six, are a part of a six bundle curriculum required by NGSS for eighth grade students. CGRER researchers Scott Spak and Charles Stanier developed their content as a part of the College of Education and CGRER’s effort to connect Iowa educators with local climate science in realtime.

Approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, the bulk of the 8th grade NGSS curriculum will be implemented in Iowa schools next semester. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative team has recently developed a free and public online pressbook where Iowa teachers can access course-related climate science data from CGRER researchers, as well as lesson plans and suggestions from other Iowa teachers.

Ted Neal explained, “This whole curriculum is free. Use it how you want, where you want, how you want, we’re just trying to compile this together for school districts in a time when budgeting is so tight.”

The NGSS standards require students of all ages to understand Earth’s systems. Scott Spak, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, said, “Of the dozens of standards, there are 36 that from kindergarten through high school that are required to be able to understand how the climate system works.”

Spak and his fellow CGRER researchers will provide data that is relevant to learners specifically in the Hawkeye State.

Drew Ayrit is high school teacher from Waco that participated in last weekend’s workshop. He said, “I really believe in the standards because it’s very student-centered, students doing real science, students engaging in discussion based on evidence.”